Sunday, April 24, 2016

His Mercy - April 24, 2016

Luke 18:9-14 - And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Jesus' desire is that we never forget where we came from, regarding our sin. Many of us can relate to the tax collector in Luke 18 and his feeling of utter shame and bankruptcy as he cried out to God for mercy. Conversely, we hear a different message from the Pharisee -- one of self-righteousness and judgment against his fellow man. The scripture tells us nothing of this particular Pharisee up until this point in time. Possibly he began as a true seeker after God, yet through time he became arrogant and conceited regarding his so-called relationship with God. As he became more and more consumed in his own self-interest of an outwardly righteous life, more and more he died within, divorcing himself from any relationship that he might have started with God in days gone by. Today, this Pharisee might be any one in the church that seeks to set themselves above their brother or sister in so-called spirituality. Not only has their self-righteousness driven them away from God but it has also isolated them from any understanding of loving their spiritual siblings. As stated in I John 4:20, it is impossible to love God and to hate your brother. In the instance of the Pharisee and the tax-collector, the former had long ago lost any affection toward the latter thereby nullifying any relationship with the Father.

Jesus told parables for very clear reasons and purposes. His desire was for the hearers to relate themselves to the particular circumstances of the life lesson. In this case, He is beckoning for the hearer to either take one or two positions -- to understand that they are related to eeither the Pharisee or the tax-gatherer. God is telling us that it is good to be related to one or the other. It is actually a travesty if one can not relate themselves to either. (As Jesus stated in Revelations 3:16, He wished that the church at Laodicea were either hot or cold but because of their indifference that they were in peril of God's rejection.) If one identifies themselves as one that has been self-righteous and judgmental of others, then there is the grace and mercy of God that he extends to all that would but humble themselves. That is the first step toward understanding that we all truly are no better than a tax-gatherer.

However, for those who might not believe or understand that they are plagued by self-righteous destruction, here are a couple of clues that should work as a litmus test to determine whether one regards themselves as "righteous":
1) God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. -- The Pharisee (or the self-righteous church-goer) prays to God, masquerading their contempt for others with thanksgiving that he or she is not like "other" people. They can easily mask their inner disdain and hatred for others in "religious" contexts. Rather than "praying the Word" over others in secrecy, the hypocrite would choose to "pray their gossip" over others! They justify this sort of behavior by their "concern" for the church body and its need to "get right with God".

2) I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get. -- Outward forms of so-called spirituality give carnal license for others to be hateful of those they judge. After all, fasting and giving tithes gives a so-called believer the "right" to talk about others since they are such a integral part of the church. In their reasoning, if "Aunt Betty" is cooking for every social that is on the church calendar, doesn't that give her the right to voice her opinion? With an attitude of concern about the "sinner", of course!
It's interesting to note that those who truly know they are wrong and needing God's mercy confer with no one nor judge anyone. They don't go to the self-righteous and make their case with them, seeking pardon. They don't even have the confidence to lift their eyes toward heaven, but they cry out to God saying, "Have mercy on me, O God, a sinner!". Without fail, this person will go up to their house justified as they pour out their hearts to God, where those who self-righteously attest to their own goodness have only deceived themselves. These await nothing but loneliness and eternal isolation, the very things they have created for themselves here on earth.

Jesus states that whoever shall humble themselves shall be exalted and whomever exalts themselves will be humbled. These are our choices, in the time that we have here with one another, which will decide how we will live or die throughout eternity.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Faith by Obedience - April 17, 2016

Luke 17:5-10 - The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" And the Lord said, "If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you. Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come immediately and sit down to eat'? But will he not say to him, 'Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink'? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done."

This particular passage can be confusing unless one knows what the Lord is driving at. The apostles initially asked the Lord Jesus: "Increase our faith!" Jesus explains to them that they don't lack faith but only the wisdom and the understanding to apply it. The Lord uses an extreme, unbelievable example of commanding a mulberry tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea. What He is really getting at is His desire to show us how to listen and obey what the Heavenly Father is speaking so that we will be able to discern the most simple commands as well as what might be the most seemingly outlandish commands which He would give us.

At first glance, it would appear that Jesus has launched into a whole new topic when he begins relating the analogy of the servant and his master. However, understand that the Lord is detailing a particular way to relate to His Father, in order for the disciples to "increase their faith". One might say that there is no mention of faith in this passage except in the apostles plea to Jesus. What IS mentioned is the relationship between a servant and his master and how they interact. Jesus points out that a servant does not look out for his own interests first, but those of his master. The master does not say to the servant, "Come immediately and sit down and eat". Instead, the servant is taught day in and out that his purpose on this earth is first to satisfy the needs and desires of his master. Jesus' example gives explicit directions from the master to first "Prepare something for me to eat, and then properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink". Finally, after the needs of the master are fulfilled, then the servant can satisfy his own needs. Day after day the servant hears his master's commands. He listens for his voice and learns more and more about his master as the months and years go by. The servant learns the small nuances in his meal preparation that please his master. He learns how to serve his master in just the way that his master would desire. Within time, there is an unspoken fellowship of love and respect between the servant and his master. This only comes through time -- by listening and then obeying. The master in turn does not need to thank his servant. However, the servant knows the joy of his master and merely comments, "We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we have ought to have done".

Jesus knew that His apostles didn't need more faith. What they needed was to continue to listen and to obey what Jesus was teaching them about His Father. They needed ears to hear and hearts to believe when Jesus gave them a command. Whether it was their unquestioning trudging along after Jesus as He went from city to city, or His direction when feeding the multitudes, or even simple commands such as how to prepare for the Passover, his disciples were learning how to HEAR and to OBEY. They didn't need more faith -- they were learning that faith is the offspring of its mother obedience. What they were lacking was the assurance that they were incubating rich veins of faith in the deep caverns of their hearts through their habitual walking and talking with their Lord through loving obedience.

The dilemma for many of us when we feel that we have no faith is that we have not been walking with our Lord in an attitude of obedient surrender. If we had been walking in obedience to His still, small voice than we would hear and obey when He spoke. The situation might call for a laying on of hands and prayer for the healing of a loved one, or to offer a word of encouragement and love to one that is at the end of their rope. Or, possibly to even to do something as outlandish as to tell a tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea. The opportunity the Lord offers and the response to His voice will not matter because we have been following Him both explicitly and intimately. Only with this kind of relationship, will true faith be manifest through obedient love.

Father, give us hearts of obedience so that we might grow in faith. Help us to know that we can move mountains only if we have truly known the Mountain Mover of men's souls. Teach us to hear and obey, that Your faith would abound to those whom You desire to touch. In Jesus Christ's precious name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Mighty Weak - April 10, 2016

Deuteronomy 32:36 - For the LORD will vindicate His people, and will have compassion on His servants, when He sees that their strength is gone,

God's promises to His people always include stipulations that require a response and ultimately an action. In the instance of Deuteronomy 32:36, God promises to not only vindicate (or show Himself strong) on behalf of His people, but He also states that He will have compassion on His servants. The operative word in this verse determining God's timeline to bestow these marvelous gifts is when -- or rather "... when He sees that their strength is gone, ... ." While a simple acknowledgement of weakness is an important first step, God desires to SEE an abating of strength and a true resignation to rely on Him for all things.

Some of us may have heard the analogy of the drowning swimmer as he or she relates to the lost sinner. The following not only typifies the sinner as lost and dying but it also shows how the Lord Jesus through His Father desires to save us from ourselves:
Although there were dangerous rip tide signs posted, a lone swimmer was in peril of being swept out to sea. As he began to drown, he screamed for help. Onlookers watched as a life guard flew into action and swam out to the drowning man. The small crowd that had gathered on the beach were all dumbfounded as the life guard circled the man several times, watching as the man bobbed up and down in the waves. Finally, the life guard swooped him up from behind and began dragging the helpless man toward the beach. The life guard brought the man out of harms way, administered CPR, and turned him over to paramedics that took the recovering man to a local hospital for observation. Finally, someone in the small crowd asked the question they all wanted to know: "Why did you circle the man several times before rescuing him?" The life guard replied, "The man was much bigger than me. I needed him to exhaust himself of trying to save himself, otherwise he might have pulled both of us under". Only when he was spent, was I sure that we both could make it back safely".
To continue with this analogy, the majority of the world will continue to play it safe in the tranquil waters around the beach. Many will only venture in ankle or knee deep. They don't consider themselves "sinners" needing salvation. We see these folks around us everyday. Many of these folks go to church every Sunday, they pay tithes, and some may even sing in the choir. They judge themselves by others stating, "I'm a pretty good person that doesn't do a whole lot of wrong!". These are not the people that the Lord can easily help. They are self-sufficient and have relied on themselves for years and years. Then, there are others who, for whatever reason, venture out from the safe confines of the tranquil waters around the beach. Before long, they feel the currents of this world wooing them into deeper waters. Around them they see the playful waves of sin that entice them to continue out where there is more and more excitement. Soon, however, they find themselves overcome by the surf as it pounds down around them. The foam and the mist that was playfully enticing a few moments earlier has now become a force to be reckoned with as it covers their heads and draws on their bodies to carry them further and further out to sea.

Many of us can relate to this dire situation. When all seems lost, we are now at the place where God can truly save us. We are over our heads in sin and without the power to resolve our own rescue. Then, our Savior can truly have His way with us, for He SEES that we are spent and despairing of any salvation other than what He can afford us. Until we are in that most untenable situation, there is little He can do. For truly, God is calling to the weak, not to the strong. He desires a person, a church, and a people that have despaired of living by their own power and have relinquished all thoughts of their own salvation. The Lord Jesus Christ's greatest desire is to pull all of us on to that proverbial beach and resuscitate us, giving us life once again that we had lost hope of ever enjoying. He seeks to REVIVE His people, first as individuals and then as the Body of Christ to send us forth as witnesses of God's saving power from the Ocean of Despair. Have you been resuscitated and revived by the Lord Jesus Christ? Or are you one that has never seen your own need of rescue? May those of us who find ourselves in the throes of the Sea of Despair, may we cry out to Him who SEES when our strength is gone. For only then, can we truly be saved!

Lord Jesus, You are the hope of our salvation from the tempest of sin. For truly, when our strength is gone, we need Your salvation. Have mercy on us and bring us safely to Your Shore of Deliverance. For only when we are weak are we truly strengthened by the might of your loving arms to carry us safely home. In Your Precious Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, April 3, 2016

God's Allowances - April 3, 2016

John 14:1 - Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.

As a child, there were certain tasks or chores I was expected to do around the house. Sometimes, if household finances were good, I would receive an allowance. Most of the time, it was thirty-five cents a week or if times were good my father would give me a half dollar piece. Mind you, this was in the 1960s when a family of four could live modestly on an income of $150 a week. Many weeks, we lived on half that much which made allowances a luxury and something my parents couldn't afford. However, I was still expected to do my chores and my dad and mom would treat my brother and I with an occasional treat when they could. In reality, allowances in our family weren't earned, they were just an expression of my parents' thoughtfulness when they COULD afford it. To "allow" us the money each week was a treat and I appreciated it when I did receive it. Many children today don't understand how to give back to the family unit without believing they should be compensated. I was one of the fortunate ones to know that my parents didn't owe me anything beyond their providing me the basic needs in addition to their love, which was always abundantly supplied.

Some may consider allowances as merely monetary expressions, however there are other meanings. We grant allowances, daily, with probably little thought. We "let" or "allow" others our time, especially if they are our friends. We allow others, such as telemarketers to go through their entire spiel before we say, "No thank you, not today". We also allow or let the worries of the day encroach upon us to the point where concerns and constant thinking on a particular matter can last well into the evening and haunt us as we retire to toss and turn. Everyone is a candidate for providing this type of allowance to occupy -- literally to take up residence in our minds and hearts. Jesus understood the concept of "allowing" or letting something consume the mind and heart to such a point that the life was paralyzed with fear. He understood that a bad "allowance" of fear and worry would ultimately take over the entire being. In the opening scripture, Jesus gives his disciples a command -- a life command that would allow them to be hopeful rather than consumed with fear and heartache. The Worldwide English Translation puts it this way: Jesus said, Do not let anything trouble your heart. You believe in God and you must believe in me also. Jesus implies not letting or allowing the mind and the heart to be overwhelmed, but to refuse this wasteful pre-occupation by turning over our anxieties to the Lord.

We are not ruled by committee, if we know the Lord Jesus. We don't have to listen to the constant banter back and forth in our minds and hearts of differing opinions, or this idea or that. We don't have to listen to the "committee in our heads" that is run by the flesh and the devil, seeking to distract us from God's holy purposes. When all we hear is the cacophony of one competing voice after another, we can merely silence the madness by allowing the Lord Jesus to take control of the situation. In the beginning it will be difficult, but in time we will begin to trust more and more that He will put everything at peace and rest in our soul. He will not compete with these other "committee voices". However, when we allow Him to have the floor, He will silence all and will not allow them to usurp His rightful place, as long as we insist that He does so.

My childhood allowances were something not necessarily earned, but they were accepted with gratitude when offered. They were expressions of my parent's love by giving us a small token of their love. Likewise, God only gives good allowances of righteousness, peace, and joy. We don't need to allow or let others rule over our hearts or minds. As sons and daughters of God, He has given us the power to accept his peace into our hearts: "Let not your hearts by troubled ..."

Lord Jesus, we allow you to once again rule over our fretful minds and hearts. Give us peace as we give ourselves to You. For only You give us true rest from this world and the demands we place upon ourselves, We thank You for allowing us your holy presence to dwell within. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick